28.06.04 Transcript of Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Sergey Lavrov Interview with Russian Media, Istanbul, June 28, 2004

Question: How can you comment on the transfer of power to the interim government in Iraq that took place today?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: The very transfer of power is an important step forward in the matter of implementing the unanimously adopted resolution 1546 of the United Nations Security Council envisaging the restoration of Iraq's sovereignty, which Russia had been advocating from the very start of the crisis, insisting on the necessity of speedily returning to the Iraqi people the right to freely determine their own destiny and dispose of their natural resources.

As to the specific date for the transfer of power, it had been fixed as "by June 30." The transfer took place earlier. The Prime Minister of Iraq explained this by a wish to transfer power from the occupation forces to the interim government more quickly.

We know that the security situation in Iraq is degrading. The calculation of the Iraqi government, as was announced, is that the acceleration of this ceremony will help to show that the process of the restoration of sovereignty is already under way and there is the hope to calm down those who continue urging the speediest termination of occupation.

Russia had advocated that from the outset. When United Nations Security Council resolution 1546 was adopted, we stressed that all that is written down in it is right and important. But the first consideration will be the extent to which the specific phases of political settlement, provided for in this resolution, are going to be carried out in practice. Of key significance, as has become banal to say, is the security situation. We do hope that it will be successfully normalized. Key to this, in our conviction, is the ensuring of national reconciliation within Iraqi society and the drawing into the process of the restoration of Iraq's statehood of all the political forces, including opposition forces. This is the exact aim of our initiative for convening an international conference on Iraq, the relevance of which, in the present conditions, I think is only increasing. This conference will help gather together all the, including opposition, political forces, Iraq's neighbors and the international community as a whole, and mobilize all efforts to ensure both national reconciliation within Iraq and support for the interim government from regional and international forces. That support, unquestionably, is necessary, because a very extensive and complex task of the transitional period is facing the interim government.

Question: What is the agenda of the Russia-NATO Council session?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: To be submitted to the Russia-NATO Council session is a list of problems which have been examined in this body during the two years of its existence. We want to sum up this period of interaction, with which we are generally pleased. The past years have demonstrated that the mechanism that was created truly reflects the requirements of Russia and NATO alike in a uniting of efforts for cooperation in the field of safeguarding regional and international security.

The problems being submitted to today's session may be divided into two blocks. The first block is the fight against new challenges and threats, including terrorism and drug trafficking and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The second block consists of regional problems, we will discuss the situation in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Kosovo and around it, as well as the issues on which Russia and NATO can cooperate to resolve them in accordance with international law.

Question: How can you comment on the ratification by Russia of the CFE Treaty? What can you say about the claims being made against our country in relation to the withdrawal of Russian bases from Georgia and of weapons from Transnistria?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: The Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe is one of the bases of Russia-NATO cooperation, since it ensures the balance of forces in Europe and is an important factor of mutual trust between the Russian Federation and the North Atlantic Alliance, which is particularly relevant in the conditions when NATO's enlargement is being accompanied by what we believe to be unjustified measures for intensifying the bloc's military activity on the new frontiers of the countries that have joined it and of Russia.

The CFE itself is not being rejected by anyone. The principal meaning of the Istanbul Agreements from the legal point of view is the necessity of ratifying the CFE Treaty, which Russia did. Several days ago the State Duma of the Russian Federation adopted this decision. Simultaneously with this decision on ratification a statement was adopted setting forth the Russian concerns and emphasizing that Russia will be strictly guided by its military restraint commitments - and by the obligations arising from the Treaty itself - to the extent the other countries parties to the CFE Treaty are guided by these obligations.

As to the claims being made against Russia, those claims, from the legal point of view, are incorrect. The agreements on resolving the situation with the Russian military bases in Georgia and with the withdrawal of Russian weapons from Transnistria bore a political, not juridical, character. In addition, Russia has been implementing these agreements, they did not presuppose any rigid timeframe for withdrawal. With respect to Georgia, agreement was reached that Moscow and Tbilisi would enter into negotiations to determine the modalities and duration of the stay of the Russian military bases on the territory of Georgia. The negotiations began, then they broke down. There has been a change of government since then and President Mikhail Saakashvili came to power, his meetings with the President of the Russian Federation took place, agreement was reached to resume the talks and the military delegations of the two sides have already begun to meet. I think that given the good will the matter can be settled promptly enough. But there is no juridical linkage between this question, just as the withdrawal of weapons from Transnistria, which is continuing (and the reasons for the inability to speed up this process are well known to the western partners), and the ratification of the CFE Treaty.

Question: Does a NATO which will be dealing with the problems of Afghanistan and Iraq and with territories that lie outside the boundaries of Europe suit Russia? Are we going to continue to cooperate with the Alliance in the future as well?

Foreign Minister Lavrov: NATO is a reality. You mentioned Iraq. I know that a decision was taken today at the summit of NATO to the effect that the Alliance will participate in the training of the Iraqi army and other security structures. All that is going to contribute to normalizing the situation in Iraq merits support. It is necessary to be very well aware of the real situation on the ground. And the situation is such that without national reconciliation, without the drawing into the political process of all the forces, including those currently in opposition and which are a kind of political mainstay for armed resistance to the occupation, without such a uniting of all the national forces it is very difficult to count on success in Iraqi settlement. Therefore, when we are talking about military assistance to Iraq, it would be incorrect not to take this factor into consideration. There were already attempts during the last nearly 18 months one way or another to solve the Iraq problem by military means, by the method of force. Those attempts did not end well. The road can only be political, and to stake on military methods is very risky, particularly in the situation where any questions of military assistance to Iraq should be considered from the viewpoint of the consequences that might occur in the conditions of a split of society.

We listened to the reaction of the Iraqis to the restoration of sovereignty, they all want but one thing - security. Security in this case is directly linked to a normalization of internal political life, to the start of a genuinely pan-Iraqi dialogue. The interim government has declared its intention to embark on that dialogue - the sooner this is done, the better. But all the Iraqi political forces should be enlisted in it.

June 29, 2004